Tracking Turkeys

It’s a sad day for Meleagris gallopavo, the American wild turkey (also domesticated turkey).  Turkeys all over the U.S. are wearing disguises and hiding today in the hopes that they won’t be the main attraction at the Thanksgiving feast.  So, where are these turkeys hiding?

The BISON (Biodiversity Information Serving Our Nation) database contains occurrence data for millions of species. I decided to see if I could track down those sneaky turkeys. My search returned 324,274 results.

Normally, when I search BISON, I get point data. But, turkeys are so common in the U.S. that I got a heatmap.


As you can see, the turkeys are hiding in Wisconsin.

My older kids use to make turkey jokes. They seemed to feel that turkeys aren’t highly intelligent birds. But, the decision to hide in Wisconsin shows that turkeys are much smarter than we think.

The current weather map shows that it’s pretty cold in Wisconsin- not cold enough for a turkey to freeze, but cold enough that someone hunting a wild turkey for Thanksgiving dinner would be seriously tempted to give up, go home and drink hot chocolate.

weather map

But, this post isn’t really about clever turkeys or cold weather or even Thanksgiving dinner. It’s definitely not about geology although I think I could probably find a geological reason for turkeys to gather in Wisconsin. It’s about data.

Today data is everywhere. It’s easy to go online and find data for anything from the number of wild turkeys in each state (based on publications, not actual counts) to the weather to each state’s most Googled Thanksgiving dish (according to the New York Times, it is brownberry stuffing  in Wisconsin). It’s just as easy to use the abundance of data to support any argument you feel like making. Today, I’m arguing that turkeys are Packers fan.

Most popular football team by state


Happy Thanksgiving!


11/26 updated to repair image links.


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